Boomerang Effect: The Silver Lining

We live in an individualistic age. There is a yin-and-yang relationship between two values – individualism and communalism – that exists in every culture. Western culture, over the past hundred years, has increasingly favored the individual, in stark contrast to my asian-roots, where there is more value placed on family & community. One example is marriage – in asian cultures it’s still customary to secure the approval of the parents and community before choosing a partner, in western culture the parents care more that their child is happy with his/her own choice, and less concerned with their input being factored-into the decision  directly.  Another example is success – western parents often simply want their kids to be happy – whereas Asian parents want to see – above all else – their children succeed professionally, which usually means becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer.

As the second generation of Asian Americans comes into adulthood, we continue to define this yin-and-yang. And in all the press coverage I’ve seen, the only side to the boomerang effect that I read about is the horror of it all. A terrible job market, increasing cost of living, and underemployment have lead to a boomerang where college grads are moving back in with their parents.

Oftentimes, I look at my friends who were able to move back in with their parents with some level of envy. In a lot of ways, parents function as a booster-rocket – they carry you as far as they can, pushing you high enough so that you can make it further on your own, further than they would ever have made it.

And in that sense, moving-back-home is a great thing. You save on rent money. You defer the costs of setting up a new household – buying new furniture, new appliances, and the little things you don’t think about like a new ironing board, laundry hamper, and bathroom wastebasket, that really start to add-up. All of them get deferred. And then there are the annuities – one auto-insurance premium with two cars is cheaper than two individual premiums on two cars. Two cable bills. Two electric bills. Two Netflix bills (although I’ve been sharing my Netflix account with my sister in Philly and my girlfriend in Seattle for a year now).  And when you finally move out, you’ve had a year to go through mom’s closets (or more likely for mom to go through her closets for you) and look for things you can take – old sheets, towels, bath mats, tupperware. And then there’s access. In a really tactical sense, one great example is access to your family’s Costco account. I don’t want to get my own membership! In a broader career-sense, access to their professional networks. Every family-friend is a resource that – instead of meeting once-a-year at Thanksgiving or a wedding, you’re seeing every-other-weekend when you get dragged to a dinner party.

In an even broader context, there’s something to be said for following in your parents’ career footsteps. Had I majored in chemical engineering, I would have graduated with access to a lifetime of my dad’s professional contacts, and his ready-built insight into the industry, how it works, and how to get ahead. Yes, of course, I can cultivate mentors who can give me the same access and insight, but they say that blood is thicker than water, and finding a mentor who is willing to invest that kind of effort in you, asking nothing in return, is hard to come by.

I value my independence. And so-far, I have been lucky enough to not have to take a cent from my parents since graduation. That said, I don’t know how I would have managed without the car they gave me, and I look at my friends who lived at home for a year, and I look at the nest egg they’ve already built-up, and despite that extra year of independence, I’m jealous.

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